Not Getting Off to a Confusing Start

This past Sunday I thought it would be a good idea to begin the service a bit differently, by singing Joseph Stigora’s version of Psalm 96. I first heard this version at the 2008 Worship God conference (the time when they started it off in two keys) and really liked it. The chorus (“sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all the earth, sing to the Lord, bless his name, tell of his salvation from day to day”) is congregational, with the verses sung by the worship leader. It’s unusual for us to start off a service with an unfamiliar song, especially a song where the congregation doesn’t sing on the verses, but it seemed appropriate this past Sunday and I was looking forward to it.

Looking back, however, I realize that I forgot one important detail: since a good number of people come in late, or come in once they hear the music start, about half of the congregation wouldn’t hear my instructions to only sing the chorus and to listen to the verses.

So what ended up happening was that anyone who came in after I gave those instructions (a few hundred people) was really confused.

How come no one is singing the verses? Is Jamie expecting us to know these verses? These verses are not very easy. Have we ever sung this song before? What am I supposed to do on the verses – just stand here or something? The words are on the screen – but no one around me is singing them. This is weird.

It didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would work out. A good portion of the congregation seemed genuinely confused and not sure of what to do – which is a strange way to start off a service. I got a very kind email on Monday morning from a friend in the congregation (who walked in after I told the congregation to only sing the chorus) and let me know how hard the verses were to sing – and how no one around him was even trying!

So… lesson learned: it’s confusing for people when they walk into an already-begun service and are out of the loop that they’re not supposed to sing the verses to a song. Maybe it would be a better idea to wait until further into the service.

I’ll keep trying new, different, and fresh things. Some will work, some will not. It’s good for the congregation and it’s good for me. There’s nothing to be afraid of!

3 thoughts on “Not Getting Off to a Confusing Start”

  1. Where did you get the music for “Psalm 96”? I wasn’t at WG08 but I heard part of the song from the “two keys at once” video and was interested to hear the rest, but haven’t found the music.

  2. Finding a tastful and unobtrusive way to provide directions via the projection screens can be a useful solution for times when there could be ambiguity or misunderstanding. This is done frequently with for spoken liturgy (i.e. “Leader” “People” etc), so why not for music when it would be helpful?

    I set up the projection for our 9am “semitraditional” service, where we occasionally do a psalm with a sung congregational response (traditionally called an “antiphon”), and the verses chanted by choir and/or cantor. In such instances, I’ve found it useful to display the words of the verses in a slightly smaller font (about 20% smaller). Occasionally I’ll display the rubric “CANTOR” or “CHOIR” above the text to remove all doubt, but even just having the text appear in a different visual format hints to people that it is meant to be used in a different way, i.e. reading along in one’s head, rather than singing along.

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